Tag Archives: ab1665

Move fast and build things, like broadband infrastructure

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

The debate over California’s primary broadband infrastructure subsidy program continues. Another round of comments landed at the California Public Utilities Commission Friday, with ideas – some good, some not – for changing the way the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) is run.

I drafted and submitted the Central Coast Broadband Consortium’s (CCBC) contribution. There are many administrative, practical and, yes, political details to be worked out. Which is a large part of the problem with the program: the grant application and review process is complicated, time consuming and capricious. Improving it requires fewer details, more predictability and rapid decision making.

Time is the most precious commodity…

The CCBC has developed and assisted in the development of CASF-funded projects since 2009. It is an increasingly difficult challenge to recruit qualified infrastructure grant applicants. The delays, uncertainty and litigation involved in the review and approval process are the primary reasons qualified companies refuse to participate. Subsidy levels can be a consideration too, but other funds can often be identified to backfill project budgets when CASF eligibility is assured and schedules are short.

Money can be made. Time cannot.

The more complicated the process is and the more opportunities for incumbents to game the system, either by exploiting an overly intricate scoring system or by endless litigation of independent proposals, the less the likelihood is of meaningful service and infrastructure upgrades in deserving communities.

Since the California legislature voted to turn CASF into a piggy bank for big incumbents last year, the pipeline of independent broadband projects has run dry. Naturally, it has not stopped Frontier Communications from gaming the system to maximise the taxpayer dollars it rakes in, while minimising its service obligations.

In theory, the draft overhaul of the program should be complete by the end of the year, although it might take a month or two (or three…) for CPUC commissioners to come to a decision. In the meantime, the debate continues.

You can download Friday’s filings, and all (I think) the other documents from the CASF reboot here

Protect our monopolies, telcos, cable tell CPUC

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

AT&T doesn’t want to be bothered with any performance requirements or public disclosures. It just wants the California Public Utilities Commission to write it a monthly check, drawn on the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). Boiled down, that’s its idea for rebooting CASF, following its success at convincing California lawmakers to turn the program into its own private piggy bank.

In that respect, AT&T is being consistent. But there is one, big whopper in the recommendations it submitted last month: AT&T claims the “communications environment” is “hypercompetitive”.

Nonsense.

California’s broadband market is concentrated in the hands of just a few players. Places where there are more than two wireline providers are rare. When broadband subsidies are on the table, that duopoly turns into a monopoly. Both California and federal infrastructure subsidies are effectively limited to communities bypassed by cable companies. In its service territory, AT&T will only get taxpayer money where it’s the only game in town.

That’s not hypercompetitive. That’s not competitive. That’s a monopoly.

Frontier Communications, Comcast and Charter Communications also want to fence off service areas where their service is substandard or nonexistent. Frontier and the California Cable and Telecommunications Association – Comcast’s and Charter’s joint lobbying front organisation – are both urging the CPUC to allow them to challenge proposed infrastructure projects at any time, for any reason. Frontier, in particular, abuses the challenge process – sometimes successfully, sometimes not – by submitting late and often unsupportable service claims.

Most of the comments from other organisations, including those that I drafted for the Central Coast Broadband Consortium, urge the CPUC to set reasonable limits on challenges. The endless attacks on independent projects by incumbents is a major reason that reviews of proposed projects can stretch out for more than two years.

The CASF program’s purpose is to improve California’s broadband infrastructure, not to protect monopoly businesses at taxpayers’ expense. It’s time to end the delays and make incumbents accountable, for both the service they provide and the claims they make about it.

FCC thinks its broadband standard is fast enough. What do you think?

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

The Federal Communications Commission is beginning its annual exercise to determine if Internet service in the U.S. is adequate, and it wants to know what you think of last year’s conclusion that 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds are “advanced” enough is good enough. Comments are due 17 September 2018. The FCC’s republican majority thinks so

The 2018 Report found that the current speed benchmark of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps was the appropriate measure to assess whether fixed services provides advanced telecommunications capability. The Commission concluded that fixed services meeting this speed benchmark satisfy the statutory requirement to “enable users to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics and video telecommunications.” We propose to maintain the 25 Mbps/3 Mbps benchmark, and we seek comment on this proposal.

Jessica Rosenworcel, the only democrat on the commission at present, disagrees

This inquiry fundamentally errs by proposing to keep our national broadband standard at 25 Megabits per second. I believe this goal is insufficiently audacious. It is time to be bold and move the national broadband standard from 25 Megabits to 100 Megabits per second. When you factor in price, at this speed the United States is not even close to leading the world

Rosenworcel is correct. With video going over the top and migrating to 4k, a download speed of 25 Mbps won’t keep an entire household online. An upload speed of 3 Mbps isn’t enough for any business that deals in digital services or products.

On the other hand, a 25/3 standard seems pretty rich by Californian standards. Bowing deeply before bags of cash lobbyists from AT&T, Frontier Communications, Comcast, Charter Communications and other incumbents, lawmakers lowered California’s minimum acceptable broadband speed to 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up last year.

Broadband speed standards should be determined by how people actually use, and want to use, the Internet. Not by politics or cash payments to politicians.

Performance, not weasel words, should drive California broadband subsidies

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

The reboot of the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) broadband infrastructure subsidy program continues, with a new round of comments and suggestions landing at the California Public Utilities Commission.

I drafted the Central Coast Broadband Consortium’s filing. One issue that the CPUC should consider very carefully is what qualifies as a bona fide service offer.

When the California legislature allowed lobbyists for AT&T, Frontier Communications, Comcast and Charter Communications to rewrite the law and turn CASF into their own, private piggy bank, the minimum broadband standard was lowered to 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds. If an incumbent “offers” such service, then the area in question isn’t eligible for an infrastructure grant.

The point we made is that…

In order for such an offer to be valid, an incumbent provider must be capable of actually delivering service at 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds (hereinafter, “6/1 service”) consistently to any household that subscribes to it. Although it is common industry practice to advertise service at a certain level and then condition it with a long and difficult to parse list of exceptions, there are no such exceptions in the statute. An incumbent is either capable of delivering 6/1 service to every household that subscribes to at least that level of service at all times, or it is not. If an incumbent is not capable of fulfilling an offer of 6/1 service, or better, at all times in any given census block or to any given household, then that census block or household is unserved.

An offer that can’t be fulfilled is not a offer at all. Incumbents should not be allowed to block independent projects on the basis of marketing claims or service that meets the minimum standard only some of the time. The 6/1 standard is ridiculously low to begin with. The least the CPUC can do is require incumbents to actually meet it.

CPUC approves FTTH grants, but says Frontier needs skin in the game

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

Frontier Communications will get $2.7 million from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) for two fiber to the home projects. One is in the Imperial County towns of Desert Shores and Salton Sea Beach, and the other in Lytle Creek, in the mountains of San Bernardino County. The California Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved the subsidies at its meeting yesterday, and declined to add another $600,000 as demanded by Frontier.

At least for now.

The commission is in the middle of rebooting the CASF program, following the California legislature’s rewrite of the law that governs it. Lawmakers effectively transformed CASF from a source of independent and, to a degree, competitive broadband infrastructure financing, into a piggy bank for Frontier and AT&T. The language in the new law allows for 100% funding of broadband projects, but doesn’t require it. Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves is in charge of making the changes, and she held out hope that Frontier could come back later and get the rest of the money. Commissioner Liane Randolph said that would be something to consider, but companies should share at least some of the costs…

I am supportive of both of these projects at the level currently recommended by staff. I’m open to – if there’s an opportunity in the future, if the criteria changes and there’s a procedural way that they can apply for more funds, but we would be approving these projects with the understanding that we would be approving them at 80 and 90 [percent] at this time. I think it’s important for the companies to have a financial participation in the project. They will eventually be able to earn a profit on this infrastructure.

As it stands, taxpayers will pick up the tab for 80% of the Lytle Creek project and 90% of the Desert Shores project. At that level, both projects will be turning a profit for Frontier within a handful of years, according to CPUC staff estimates. On the other hand, Frontier has threatened to not build anything at all if it has to invest its own money.

CPUC votes today on Frontier’s California cash grab

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

Frontier Communications isn’t getting any sympathy yet from the California Public Utilities Commission. Commissioners are scheduled to vote this morning on grants for two southern California fiber to the home projects, in Lytle Creek, in the mountains of San Bernardino County, and Desert Shores and Salton Sea Beach in Imperial County. The subsidies would come from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF).

You might think that Frontier would be happy with a gift of $2.7 million of taxpayer money, but it isn’t. It wants $3.3 million, which is the full tab for building the systems. Including the cost of buying customer premise equipment for customers who don’t exist – there are about 200 empty homes in the Desert Shores project area. Frontier claimed its household count was based on its own “its well tested methodology used extensively in broadband deployment”. Turns out Frontier’s “well tested methodology” involves using 2016 population figures, instead of the newer but, um, inconvenient data generated by the California finance department in 2017.

CPUC staff rejected Frontier’s arguments that the CPUC should pay for 100% of both projects, instead of the 80% and 90%, respectively, that’s currently proposed, saying…

Frontier has offered an interpretation of AB 1665 whereby every project is evaluated according to the unique set of criteria, chosen by the applicant, that will justify full funding for that project.

Assembly bill 1665 was passed by the California legislature and signed into law by governor Jerry Brown last year. The bill rewrote the rules for the CASF program, turning it into a private piggy bank for Frontier and AT&T, with some spiffs on the side for cable companies. It’s not surprising that Frontier thinks it can whack CASF with a hammer any time it’s running a little low on cash, but that’s the product of a seemingly limitless sense of entitlement, rather than a rational interpretation of the law.

So far, the give and take has been with staff. Commissioners will have the final say later this morning.

Frontier tells CPUC give us all the money!

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

Frontier Communications isn’t happy with the bonus that California Public Utilities Commission staff wants to bestow on it. Instead, Frontier is demanding the CPUC pay the entire cost of two fiber to the home projects in outlying areas of California.

Frontier applied for two grants from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), one for $1.8 million in the San Bernardino County mountain community of Lytle Creek, and the other for $1.5 million in two towns – Desert Shores and Salton Sea Beach – in Imperial County. The applications asked the CPUC to pay 100% of the cost of the projects. The CPUC has always had the discretion to do that, but up until now has typically limited last mile infrastructure subsidies to 60% to 70% of construction costs.

When the California legislature rewrote the rules for CASF subsidies last year, it bowed to cash pressure from lobbyists for Frontier – as well as AT&T, Comcast, Charter and other big monopoly model incumbents – and turned the program into their private piggy bank. One change specifically – and unnecessarily – authorised the CPUC to pay for “all or a portion” of a project, based on an assessment of its worthiness.

So that’s what CPUC staff did when they evaluated Frontier’s applications, and drafted two resolutions for commissioners to consider at their meeting tomorrow. They recommend giving Frontier grants for 90% of the Desert Shores project cost and 80% in Lytle Creek.

That’s more than any other last mile project subsidised by CASF, but it still isn’t enough for Frontier. It filed objections to the staff proposal, essentially arguing that the CPUC is obligated to give them all the money.

Nonsense.

The CPUC’s job is to try to untangle the mess that lawmakers made last year when the CASF program was rewritten. That means developing a rational process for identifying and funding broadband projects in unserved and otherwise eligible areas of California, Frontier’s overwhelming sense of entitlement notwithstanding.

New digital literacy, broadband access grant program approved by CPUC

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

The California Public Utilities Commission approved a new broadband promotion program at its meeting in San Francisco yesterday. Via the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), the program will award grants for digital literacy training and community broadband access projects. Non-profit groups, schools, local governments and other not-for-profit organisations can compete for the $5 million initially available, with the first round of applications due on 31 August 2018.

There’s a fast lane – expedited review – for applications requesting grants of $100,000 or less, and that meet other specific requirements, such as serving a low income community and offering technical support. In addition, preference will also be given to projects that serve rural areas and/or people with “limited English proficiency” and “limited educational attainment”. Grants can pay for up to 85% of eligible project costs.

One knotty problem is evaluating the effectiveness of “broadband adoption” projects. Strictly speaking, adoption is a marketing metric, typically expressed as the percentage of people who buy a particular category of services or products. The obvious solution is to get subscriber data from Internet service providers, but that’s something that big ISPs, and particularly AT&T, do not want to do. They treat it as proprietary information. One possible work around is to sign non-disclosure agreements, and the CPUC will work on creating a standard one for grantees to use. But the CPUC isn’t requiring ISPs to participate, so it might not get very far.

The commission also made relatively minor changes to its existing grant program for public housing communities. It didn’t change its standards, though. Unlike other CASF-funded infrastructure projects, which have to offer at least 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds, facilities in public housing only have to deliver 1.5 Mbps down, with no particular upload requirement.

The new adoption program – $20 million total – was created by the state legislature last year, when it turned the lion’s share of CASF – more than $300 million – into a piggy bank for AT&T and Frontier Communications. Those new rules are still under development at the CPUC, with a final version expected by the end of the year.

CPUC urged to keep broadband promotion subsidies provider neutral

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

Broadband promotion grant rules should have air tight guarantees that the money won’t be used to promote any particular Internet service provider. That’s the consensus of several organisations that reacted to a draft decision that would have the California Public Utilities Commission set up a broadband “adoption” program, subsidised by the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF).

As the new rules were being developed, big, incumbent ISPs argued, in effect, that they should be able to leverage the money to supplement their subscriber acquisition – aka sales – efforts. The first draft of the rules is a little ambiguous on that point. Although the money would flow through (presumably) non-profit organisations, partnerships with ISPs are encouraged. No one seems opposed with the idea of working with ISPs. After all, the goal is to convince more Californians to buy Internet access and join the online world. ISPs have to be part of the mix for that to happen.

But exclusive deals are something else again. Big ISPs such as AT&T, Frontier Communications, Comcast and Charter Communications don’t play well with others. As anyone who has watched the parade of sock puppets that the big carriers march into legislative hearings can tell you, when they can rope non-profits into working for them, they will. In its comments to the CPUC, the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) said Frontier wants to do exactly that…

Currently, CETF is being pressured by Frontier Communications to have CBO grantees for adoption outreach market only Frontier’s affordable offer. This is contrary to the role of a non-profit organization to educate a potential subscriber to all affordable offers available, and help choose the best one for his or her needs.

Most of CETF’s funding comes from Frontier and Charter these days, to run such subscriber acquisition campaigns in their territories.

The Greenlining Institute, TURN (aka the Utility Reform Network, aka Toward Utility Rate Normalisation) and the CPUC’s office of ratepayer advocates also pushed for clear language banning exclusive deals between grant recipients and ISPs. As TURN and Greenlining put it

The Commission should ensure that those partnerships do not require digital literacy programs to exclusively promote one Internet Service Provider’s services at the expense of competition and informed consumer choice. These program participants are exceptionally vulnerable in that they have been recently introduced to the internet and on-line environment and presumably have little to no knowledge regarding the various options and “players” in the marketplace. These consumers will likely be looking to these programs for guidance and advice on adoption options. These consumers should not be misled or otherwise given the impression that they do not have a choice for internet services through program materials, branding, or other marketing materials solely from the ISP partner that would likely be accessible during the grant- funded program.

Rebuttals, should there be any, are due next week. The CPUC is scheduled to make a final decision on 21 June 2018.

The complete set of CASF reboot documents is here.

California broadband subsidy law demands equal treatment for all, rich and poor alike

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

One of the mysteries surrounding Californian subsidies for broadband infrastructure is the abysmally low standard that the California Public Utilities Commission imposes on the people who live in public housing, and only on them. The thicket of laws that govern the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) initially set aside $20 million to pay for broadband facilities in public housing communities, with the possibility of adding more when it runs out.

The CPUC is in the middle of rebooting the CASF program, after the California legislature added to the mess by turning the general infrastructure subsidy program – with $300 million in new money – into a piggy bank for AT&T and Frontier Communications. In the process, it’s freshening up the rules for improving broadband access in public housing.

The first draft of the new rules keeps the minimum service speed for subsidised public housing broadband facilities at 1.5 Mbps for downloads, with no requirement at all for uploads. That contrasts with the 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps minimum that the CPUC (and the legislature) thinks is good enough for everyone else. It isn’t, but that’s a separate barrel of pork.

The draft rules justify digging a deeper digital divide by declaring subsidised broadband in public housing is “not intended to replicate the robust level of connectivity of a commercial provider”. The problem with that, as pointed out in comments filed yesterday by the Central Coast Broadband Consortium, is that the language of the law – sausage though it may be – sets the same standards for everyone…

Because 1. An unserved residence is one where service at 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds is not available, 2. Grants for broadband infrastructure projects in Public Housing may only be made to an unserved residence, and 3. The purpose of all CASF infrastructure projects is to raise the service available to all Californians above the statutorily defined unserved threshold, we must conclude that it would be illegal to fund an infrastructure project, of any kind, that did not provide service at 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds or better.

The CPUC is due to vote on the changes at its 21 June 2018 meeting.

The complete set of CASF reboot documents is here.

I drafted and filed the Central Coast Broadband Consortium’s comments. I’m not trying to feign impartiality. Take it for what it’s worth.

Correction: an earlier version of this post contained a typo. The minimum speed that CASF-subsidised broadband projects in public housing communities must “provide residents with” is “1.5 mbps per unit”, not 1 Mbps per unit. The fault is mine and it’s been corrected above.